But no matter what drove them to the podium, these convention speakers, each in her own way, made a lasting impact inside the convention hall and well beyond it. Because the political conventions are wall-to-wall with speakers, they are a great learning opportunity for you as a speaker.
Each of these speeches is included in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, and includes, where available, full text, audio, or video, as well as tips you can use in your own speechmaking and speechwriting. This list, shared in chronological order, will let you compare this year's crop of speeches to some real classics:
- Eleanor Roosevelt's 1940 convention-saving speech spoke in support of her husband's effort to gain an unprecedented third term as president of the United States. She won the day by describing the nation's pivotal moment as "no ordinary time." I've got a copy of her text and notes for you to look at, at the link.
- Fannie Lou Hamer's 1964 convention committee testimony was back-room material, rather than a keynote, because she was pushing for black representation in her state's convention delegation. She described the beatings and harassment she and others received while trying to register to vote, and television networks carried much of her testimony.
- Barbara Jordan's 1976 Democratic convention keynote broke two records: she was the first woman and first African-American to deliver the keynote. In the hands of this woman, considered one of the most eloquent speakers of the 20th century, this important speech was both humble and soaring. Do listen to the video to hear her strong, impactful voice, which has been described as "eloquent thunder."
- Jeane Kirkpatrick's "Blame America First" keynote at the 1984 Republican National Convention had more novelty going for it than its female speaker. The foreign policy speech--unusual at a convention--also was the first time in 30 years a non-Republican had been asked to speak.
- Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 acceptance of the Democratic nomination for vice president marked the first time a woman had been selected for that role by a major party. Critics who said she played it safe with this speech ignored the reality that, when the moment is this historic, a simple speech will do. The circumstances speak for themselves.
- Ann Richards's 1988 Democratic convention keynote made her only the second woman to deliver that speech at convention, which she summed up in her remarks dryly with, "Two women in 160 years is about par for the course."
- Mary Fisher's 1992 Republican convention speech on AIDS and HIV countered the Republican party line by pointing out that supporting family values didn't matter much if the party didn't also support the fight against the virus that destroys families. Fisher, who is HIV-positive, is still alive today at age 68.
- Elizabeth Glaser's 1992 Democratic convention speech on AIDS and HIV was more overtly political, focusing her speech on the failure of the Democratic leadership to address the AIDS epidemic. Glaser died of AIDS in 1994.
- Sarah Palin's acceptance of the 2008 vice presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention introduced the little-known Alaska governor to the convention and the nation, and cast her in the role of the happy warrior. A little personalization helped this speech go a long way.
- Michelle Obama's speech at 2012 Democratic convention got 28,000 tweets per minute, but followed the classic speechwriting rubric for a memorable speech from John F. Kennedy's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen: clarity, charity, brevity, and levity.
- Melania Trump's speech at the 2016 Republican convention was immediately famous, but not for the right reason. Parts of the speech were lifted from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech, causing a controversy that overshadowed much of the convention.
- Michelle Obama's most recent convention speech brought the house down with a full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton, never once mentioning her opponent by name. An inspiring, deft speech.
- Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president, and made history in the bargain. Her speech made the most of the moment, and reflected her quiet, thoughtful style.